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Child Soldiers

Background1

Children represent the future of human civilization and the future of every society. To permit them to be used as pawns of warfare, whether as targets or perpetrators, is to cast a shadow on the future. From generation to generation, violence begets violence, as the abused grow up to become abusers. Children who are thus violated carry the scars of fear and hatred in their hearts and minds. Forced to learn to kill instead of pursuing education, the children of conflict lack the knowledge and skills needed to build their own futures and futures of their communities. For society, the lives destroyed and the opportunities lost can have devastating effects on its long-term stability and development.

As the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations emphasizes, our first duty is "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." In this we have failed profoundly. Not only are millions of children still the victims of war, far too often they are its principal targets and even its instruments. Presently, in approximately 50 countries around the world, children are suffering from the effects of conflict and its aftermath.

For all the children deliberately massacred or caught in crossfire or maimed by antipersonnel land mines, many more have been deprived of their physical, mental, and emotional needs in societies at war. Millions have lost their homes and their parents, not to mention years of education and their youth. Some have been permanently traumatized by the events they have witnessed and experienced. In today's internecine conflicts, children are specifically targeted in strategies to eliminate the next generation of potential adversaries. To the same end, children, especially girls, have been made the targets of sexual abuse and gender-based violence on a large scale. Most cynically, children have been compelled to become instruments of war, recruited or kidnaped to become child soldiers, thus forced to give violent expression to the hatred of adults. In all, an estimated 2 million children have been killed in situations of armed conflict since 1987, while three times that number have been seriously injured or permanently disabled.

The international community has an obligation to be concerned about the protection of all noncombatants caught in the midst of violent conflicts. Yet there is an urgent need to focus special attention on the plight of children. They are the ones least responsible for conflict, yet most vulnerable to its excesses. Children, as the most innocent and powerless victims of armed conflict, require special protection. In zones of conflict, international advocacy and intercession are essential to ensure that parties to conflict commit themselves to the protection of children from exploitation, abuse, and brutalization. The international community must ensure that those who target children do not continue to do so with impunity.

The United Methodist Church urges:

(1) The General Boards of Global Ministries and Church and Society, and the Bishops Initiative on Children and Poverty to work with local churches to implement the recommendations of the World Council of Churches (Eighth Assembly, Harare, Zimbabwe) to:

  • call for an immediate moratorium on the recruitment and participation of children as soldiers and the demobilization of existing child soldiers;
  • work to prevent the compulsory or voluntary recruitment or re-recruitment of former soldiers, taking particular account of the needs of former girl soldiers;
  • promote the establishment of international standards to this effect, in particular the adoption of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child raising the minimum age from 15 to 18 years for all forms of recruitment and participation in hostilities; and
  • urge their national governments to adopt and apply such standards in their own national legislation.

(2) The General Boards of Global Ministries and Church and Society, and Bishops Initiative on Children and Poverty to:

  • offer humanitarian assistance, where possible, to children traumatized by the experience of having been a child soldier; and
  • urge United Methodists in the United States to demand that the United States government ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which only the United States and Somalia have not ratified.

ADOPTED 2000

See Social Principles, ¶ 162C and 164G.

1 Background information provided verbatim from the Report of the United Nations Secretary General s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to the General Assembly, 12 October 1998, "Protection of children affected by armed conflict."

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.




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